Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

Opening a Door to Compassion

by | Feb 5, 2015

“I view my finding IVC as a new beginning, opening a new door,” says Greg Howes, 46-year-old president and owner of Howes Insurance Group in Concord, Massachusetts, and Ignatian Volunteer.

“I don’t really fit the IVC model,” he continues. “I’m not retired, not over 50. I have three children, two in college. My internal compass draws me to works of service. It comes from a place of blessing. I’m financially comfortable, my business is doing well, but I was looking for something more. When I learned about IVC, I decided I could carve out time from my week to put my faith into action”

Greg has been an Ignatian Volunteer at Dismas House in New England since September. He feels his heart being moved to compassion by his ministry of presence there.

Ignatian Volunteer Greg Howes works on a building project with a resident of Dismas Family Farm.  They used hand tools to cut trees, saw them into logs, and chisel and create signs for the Worcester County Land Trust.

Ignatian Volunteer Greg Howes works on a building project with a resident of Dismas Family Farm. They used hand tools to cut trees, saw them into logs, and chisel and create signs for the Worcester County Land Trust.

“Dismas House is a residential and work program for men leaving prison. It provides a stable environment with the necessary ingredients to reintegrate people to society. The organization is based on reconciliation. It’s about society reconciling with prisoners and welcoming people back. They offer a roof, meals, and jobs doing chores to pay rent.”

“When I interviewed at Dismas House, I felt called to serve there. But I went in with a hardened heart. The men I’m working with are people I would have had low tolerance for because of the choices they made. I had a harsh approach to who they were as people. They’ve hurt society. But we’re taught forgiveness. When I got there, I got to know individual people. I’ve learned of their hurts, fears, dreams. It opens your mind. I can’t paint this group with a broad brush, but now know people individually.”

“I’ve had the most incredible experience doing something I never saw myself doing, opening my heart, and learning so much,” Greg says. “IVC has helped me live the concepts and terms of our faith which I’ve heard since CCD. Meeting people where they are, stepping outside of my comfort zone, and putting my faith into action.”

“I spend my time at Dismas House getting to know people and their challenges. I dig, plant, and work side by side with the men who live at the Dismas House farm. In the first days, there was a lot of silence. It was a blessing to spend hours in silence doing hard work. The men were as curious about me as I was about them. They finally pulled me aside and asked what I was doing there, what was my objective? I explained that I don’t have any objective and that I was just there to be present with them. It was hard to explain because I’ve never done this. They came to realize that I was willing to work just as hard as they do, and we began to develop a rapport.”

“The men are open. It reminds me of why my heart may have been hardened. They share stories of bad choices. It can make me angry or frustrated, especially when stories involve children. It’s part of my faith journey because now I feel anger and frustration, but also compassion where before there was only disgust.”

“There’s one gentleman at the farm who is always alone. He never spoke and wouldn’t engage with the other men. I learned from a staff person that he’s had a horrific life – abuse as a child, bouncing from this institution to that institution, substance abuse, and prison. I address him every morning and he wouldn’t say anything. Then all of a sudden one day he was smiling when he saw me. After a while, a conversation took place. Then yesterday, he turned and reached out his hand to me. In the simple act of shaking hands and looking each other in the eye, we had a profoundly human interaction. It was a very powerful gesture.”

Dismas House’s Co-Director, Colleen Hilferty says, “Greg’s service at the Dismas Family Farm has had a positive impact on the Dismas community. Greg has jumped right in, working side-by-side with the residents, chopping wood, harvesting vegetables, and mucking out sheep stalls.  It has been during these moments that connections have been made and relationships formed. The residents have opened up to Greg about their life experiences and struggles, and Greg has offered understanding, hope and friendship.”

“My heart is in this pastoral work,” Greg says.  “It’s so foreign to me and I have a hard time relating to it. It’s about emotional connections, but there’s no practical feedback to know if it’s important or effective. But it feels right. I have the strong sense that it’s important that I’m there. I’m not solving anything, fixing anything, but it’s valuable.”

“Two days a week, I drive an hour to a farm and work next to prisoners. It allows me just to be there for others. This sounds basic, but this isn’t really promoted in society, right? We’re always working on achievements.”

“My time there is as much a benefit to me as to them. It’s so foreign in the business world to just be. There’s always a metric, a bottom line, a balance sheet. I don’t have to worry about my work while I’m there. ”

“The reflection process allows me to think deeply about the intersection between faith and real life. That is the blessing I’m getting from IVC. The fruits are very personal and intangible.”

“I was a little uncomfortable at first with the idea of meeting with a spiritual reflector. Never in my life have I been open and verbal with my faith. It’s been very private. The reflection has been very powerful and I look forward to it every month. And I’ve never had this kind of prayer life before. It’s a two way conversation. I feel like I’m more open to God.”